Library People

Is Santa Real? A Librarian's Dilemma

In my personal life, I don't touch this question with a 10-foot pole. But when I am asked this question as a librarian; I cannot deflect. The child is asking me as a trusted professional for an accurate and factual answer. Furthermore I am obligated to provide reliable resources to justify my answer. And herein lies my dilemma; I am supposed to affirm or deny the “realness” of a “person” whose very existence is based on faith! The potential answer to this question is as dangerous as a child asking me if Jesus Christ is “real.” Now before you guffaw or laugh at me, I understand  Jesus and Santa are not the same. 

But just like everyone doesn't share the same beliefs about Jesus, everyone doesn't share a universal belief in Santa. Furthermore there are many adults who would not appreciate my answering this question contrary to their beliefs especially considering I am working in a professional capacity.   As a result, confirming or denying the existence of Santa (a concept totally based on faith) as a librarian, a person who is relied on to provide factual information, is a slippery slope.

I’m sure by now you are asking me, how is the belief of Santa based on faith? Well think about it, a child raised with a religious background has a belief system instilled in them that it is possible for the impossible to occur. So it is not unreasonable for them to believe in Santa. Here are a few comparisons as examples using Christianity: 

  • Santa, through Christmas miracles travels through the space/time continuum, to deliver presents to children via flying reindeer. Additionally, he defies the laws of matter and gravity by sliding up and down chimney flutes to gain access to houses. Jesus' birth defied the laws of biology with a virgin birth, (if you believe the biblical text) and he lives his life defying gravity by walking on water, changing the molecular composition of water into fermented fruit juice, and eliminating many medical illnesses. 
  • Santa has elves to help him. Jesus has angels to help him. Nobody has ever seen either elves or angels in a tangible form. 

So understanding that it is possible for a child to believe in miracles, using scientific reasoning to dispute or confirm the existence of Santa is counter-productive.  Of course a “safe" answer is to  provide books about St. Nicholas and his charitable works and ignore the whole North Pole, reindeer, elves part.  But what if the child is unsatisfied with my answer? What if they specifically want to know about Santa, Dancer , Prancer and them?   I’m once again stuck.

And what about the child who asks this question, who are not raised in a house of Christian faith?  Explaining how the historical St. Nicholas became a magical Santa is complicated. Because again I have to answer the question: "Is Santa real?" without the religious construct.  What can I say?   I can attempt to answer the question, but again any answer I give may directly conflict with a family’s belief system.

Am I saying Santa is a religious thing?  No of course not!  But I treat the topic of Santa with the same respect I treat religion.  And out of respect, I cannot, will not, knowingly conflict a belief system.  So what do I say when asked? Well my answer is not perfect, but is goes something like this:

“Believing in Santa is a personal decision. He means different things to different people. It is up to you to decide if you want to believe in him (or not,) and how you want to express your beliefs. Remember the important thing is not if you believe in Santa (or not,) but to respect the choices of others who do not share your values. Just as you wouldn’t tell your friend they are wrong because you do not like the same foods, or enjoy the same movies, you cannot disrespect your friend’s choices regarding Santa.

At the end of the day, this may be a bad answer, a deflection, or a cop-out, but it’s the best that I can do.  

Q & A Patrons Ask, Librarians Answer: What is your favorite part of your job?

Usually I answer questions asked by adults. Today I am going to answer questions asked by children:

1. Who invented the Dewey Decimal System?

Melvil Dewey.

2. Was he a scientist?

No, he was a librarian.

3. You're kidding?

No. 

4. Tell the truth Ms. Nichole! Was Melvil Dewey a real person?

 I am not pulling your leg. Melvil Dewey was a real person. Read his online biography here or borrow this book:

               

5. What are the words to the "I love you" song you sing at storytime?

The song "Skinnamarink Dinky Dink" is what I sing at storytime. It is from my favorite childhood show.

If you are not feeling the love, some librarians like to "Go Bananas" at storytime. Here is one version of the song you can try at home:

6. What is your favorite part of your job?

Helping grown-ups solve real hard problems that will make your life better.  If I can help your mom or dad find a new house, or a new job, or something like that; I know that in a small way I have helped you. I am not always successful, but when I am it is the best feeling in the world.  I love helping people more than I love reading.

7. How do I become a librarian?

First, finish college and get a Bachelor's Degree in anything you want.  Next, get your Master's in Library Science from a school accredited by the American Library Assocation. There are two schools located in California and several programs are available online. And voila, you are now a librarian.

8. How many years of school is that?

Well, let's see.... your Bachelor's Degree is usually takes 4 - 5 years to complete and the average Master's Degree takes 2 - 3 years to complete so... you are looking at at least 6 years of school after you graduate high school. 

9. I don't want to go to school that long!

That's okay. Just like everyone who works in the hospital is not a doctor, everyone who works in a library is not a librarian. In addtition to librarians, we have library assistants, library aides, and library volunteers working in a library. Each job has different education requirements and not all of them require a master's degree, but all of them (except volunteers) require you finish high school. 

10. Do all librarians wear glasses?

Only the ones that don't wear contact lenses! Just kidding, glasses are not required. 

                                  

Q&A: Patrons Ask; Librarians Answer: My pre-teen wants to visit the library this summer with her friends. Without me! Is it okay? Is it safe?

Q: My pre-teen wants to visit the library this summer with her friends. Without me!  Is it okay? Is it safe?  --- Nervous Parent

A: Hi Nervous Parent. Kids are some of our best customers! Whether they come with parents (or responsible caregivers) or venture into the library alone, they embrace the library as a place of fun and exploration.

According to the our Guidelines for Behavior it is acceptable for minors who are at least 8 years old to visit the library without adult supervision. But please keep in mind that we are not In Loco Parentis: a legal-Latin-term that means “in place of the parent.” In layman’s terms: Unlike school or a community center that takes responsibility for children in place of the parent, the public library is not responsible for your kid, and we don't directly supervise them. So, a preteen who is asking to come to the library with her friends is asking permission to take an unsupervised outing. That baby girl of yours is growing up and ready to spread her wings. Congratulations.

I am not saying anything calming to your nerves, huh? It’s okay, relax Nervous Parent. The library is generally a fun place for your child to have an unsupervised outing provided they are prepared, and you both understand that is a public space, where all are welcome. Here are some tips to consider in preparation for your child’s solo visit to the library. You can revisit them at any time at http://oaklandlibrary.org/kids/welcome-parents.

 

1. Explain to your child you expect them to behave, and remind them how to be safe.

The library promotes a safe environment for everyone. Now we cannot promise your child's safety; but following our behavior guidelines greatly reduces the opportunity for unsafe experiences. Review the Guidelines for Behavior with your child before visiting the library. Make it clear to your offspring that if they do not behave in the library, they will be asked to leave. Everyone, (not just children) appreciates defined boundaries and a clear understanding of guidelines. Following them promotes a safe environment for everyone.  Make sure, too, you discuss basic street safety with your child, and remember that anyone may enter the library.   We don't supervise, but we are your child's go-to person whenever they feel that something is not right. 

 

2. In the event of an emergency or unexpected event (earthquake, power outage, gas leak, fire drill, alien envasion, Zombie Apocalypse, etc.), or in the event your child is asked to leave the library, prepare your child with: 

  1. i. a way to contact you. Our phones are available for emergencies only, and in a real emergency might be tied up. 
  2. ii. an alternate place to go if they cannot go home right away.

I do not want to make you more nervous, Nervous Parent. However, a bit of emergency preparation on your part will result in you being much calmer when thinking about your child in the library (or any place else) without you. Additionally, this preparation will be beneficial as your child grows older giving them the confidence to navigate the world independently. Be sure to sign-up for Zombie Apocalyse Preparedness Training when it is offered in the fall for specialized training on managing a world with the undead.

 

3. Explain to your children they have the right to be respected.

Everyone is welcome in the library: all races, languages, religions, sexual orientation, gender identity, income level, housing situation, etc. Because we are for everyone, we strive to have a community space free of prejudice and bullying. If there is ever a time your child feels bullied, uncomfortable, or unsafe in the library, encourage them to talk to us. If s/he does not feel comfortable talking to us, encourage them to talk to you, and then you contact us. Either way, we want to know about it so we can help rectify the situation. The library is a supportive environment and we promote anti-bullying.

 

4. Please sign your child up for a library card.

Visiting the library without a library card is like visiting the airport without a ticket in hopes of going somewhere. We all know that the library card allows children to use the public access computers and check out books. But did you know it also provides access to our vast collection of online databases like Tumblebooks, which will read stories to your children via their personal tablets and smartphones? With a library card you can use Overdrive, a database with access to movies you can download and watch for free. For your music lovers Freegal allows free music streaming and free music downloads. Did you know that some branches require a library card to borrow board games for playing in the library? If you want your child to have the best experience possible in the library, and enjoy all of this fabulous free stuff, having a library card is essential.

 

5. Keep the visit short.

The longer a child is in the library unattended the more likely it is they will become…. BORED! That’s right bored. And parents, boredom is the #1 reason children misbehave in the library, resulting in a negative experience. Why? Because bored children find “something” to do and that “something” can be disruptive. How long can a child stay in the library before becoming bored? Well that really depends on your child’s temperament, and if they have a library card to enjoy some of the FREE activities we provide (see #3.)

 

6. Pick your child up before the library closes!

Our libraries have a variety of open hours to accommodate almost any schedule. So make sure you know your location's hours of operation. If you cannot pick them up yourself, please make sure your child has a safe way to get to his/her's next destination when the library closes. It makes us nervous when we close the library for the evening and minors are waiting outside. We are not obligated to wait with minors for someone to pick them up. Although librarians are not in loco parentis, we are human. We care about your children too and want them to be safe and happy lifelong learners.

So remember:

1. Explain behavior guidelines and safety
2. Make an emergency plan
3. Embrace a culture of respect
4. Get a library card
5. Keep the visit short
6. Leave by closing time

Following these tips will result in a fun, safe, and potentially educational event for your unsupervised preteen. We look forward to seeing your family in the library soon.

 

If you have any more questions hit us up here             

Now don’t ask personal questions about your library account. We post  questions and answers on the blog twice a month. For more personal service you can visit me at Eastmont, or any of my colleagues at your local library.  And yes, we value your privacy.

 

Books for Wider Horizons Anniversary Party

As the culmination of the months-long 20th anniversary Books for Wider Horizons celebration, we all partied at the end of January in the Main Library. Current and past volunteers, staff, and community members gathered to share memories and honor the passion, effort, and time that have gone into this simple storyreader program.     

Nina Lindsay Emceeing the PartyAfter we all enjoyed some wonderful snacks, Nina Lindsay, Supervising Librarian for Children's Services, opened the remarks section by reflecting on the impact that BWH has had in the community. This year our 61 volunteers are delivering 91 weekly storytimes at 36 centers, resulting in 1,456 more hours of storytimes a year than the library could possibly offer without these dedicated souls. 

Gerry Garzón, OPL's library director, then thanked the past and present volunteers without whom the program could never exist. He reflected on the library's participation in the Oakland Reads 2020 initiative and how the volunteers have an impact every week, helping to make sure that children are ready to learn to read upon Picture of Gerry Garzón and Julie Odofineentering kindergarten.  After Gerry spoke, Julie Odofin, retired Administrative Librarian for OPL who originally shepherded the  program, shared some of the original history of the collaboration between the library and Head Start. She, then Supervising LIbrarian for Children's Services, attended California’s first Library-Head Start workshop with Christine Simmon's, then Director of Oakland Head Start. "The Library-Head Start two-day partnership-workshop was to design a Project to demonstrate in communities nationwide how libraries that serve children and Head Start programs can combine resources and work together for family literacy programs."  Odofin and Simmons quickly developed and secured funding for Books for Wider Horizons, which has survived so well because of the designed in-kind staffing contributions from the Library and Head Start. 

Book displayDr. Karen Lum-Nackley, a veteran volunteer, made a colorful display some of the children's picture books that have been written in the past 20 years, demonstrating the richness of the literature.

Among the community members who attended were City Councilmember Dan Kalb, Ellen Moyer, the president of Friends of the Oakland Public Library, and Victoria Barbero and Susanne Perkins of the Library Advisory Commission.

Ultimately, though, it was all about the volunteers, past and present. They have dedicated their energy, time, passion, and love to the children of Oakland who deserve everything we can give.  

Thanks to The Friends of the Oakland Public Library for funding the event and to Ann's Catering, Trader Joe's, and Costco for their generous donations in form of discounts on products. 

Picture of Peggy Woon and Mirtha

  Picture of Karen Lum-Nackley and  

Picture of BWH volunteer

        Volunteer Picture at Books for Wider Horizons Party

Volunteer Picture Picture of celebration

 

Book Characters Make Great Halloween Costumes

Halloween is fast approaching.  Still need a costume for your child and/or for yourself?  What about a favorite children’s book character?  Last year, Children's Room Librarian Laura Gravander and I dressed up as Elephant and Piggie of Mo Willems fame. See the resemblance?

   

Uncanny, isn't it?

One Halloween, all of the Children's Room staff dressed as different Rainbow Fairies.

Rainbow Fairies

And, of course there was the infamous training where six Children's Librarians dressed up as Captain Underpants (Tra-la-la-la!!!)  No pictures of that were taken to protect everybody involved.

The main thing is to have fun making the costume and try to make it with your child.  What is your child's favorite book? Have a truck lover? Cardboard boxes can be turned into trucks pretty easily. Animal lover?  One-piece pajamas work wonders. Want a variation on a princess?  What about a Paper Bag Princess?  Still no ideas?  Here’s a link to a website that shows examples of different storytime character costumes including the Paper Bag Princess.  

Happy Halloween everybody!

Books for Wider Horizons - Taking Storytimes to Young Children for Twenty Years

Books for Wider HorizonsThis year is our 20th anniversary of taking storytimes to young children in Oakland preschools, including Head Starts and CDCs, through the efforts of our trained volunteer storyreaders. We will be celebrating all year with posts on the history and future of Books for Wider Horizons.

Picture of Gay DuceyFirst up is an interview with Gay Ducey. Gay is a nationally-known storyteller and has been training our volunteers since the beginning. Her commitment to this program is legendary within the library, and she is a beloved mentor to all our volunteers.

We interviewed Gay on Saturday, October 11.

How and why did Books for Wider Horizons start?

As a group, OPL’s children’s librarians were not happy seeing only the children whose parents brought them to the library. We knew there were children who were not being exposed to the gifts the library can offer and wanted to reach them but knew we didn’t have the time to do it well, or even at all. It began when the Children’s Services Supervising Librarian at the time, Julie Odofin, asked me to put together a proposal and curriculum. The rest is history.   

What is the most important quality of a successful storyreader?

Two come to mind: commitment, a real steadfast commitment to the children; and the ability to share the love and joy of literature and language to children, so that the children carry it with them as they grow older and have choices.

Do you have a most vivid memory of the program?

There are so many… Our first training class started with six people. By the end of the three weeks, two had dropped out. So, on graduation day – a wet, cold, hailing, windy kind of day – there were just four brave souls who attended. We heard the door open and shut, thought it was just the wind, and continued with what we were doing. But it wasn’t the wind. At the door were Martín Gomez, the library director, and Ruth Metz, the assistant director. These two administrators had braved the weather on their own time to honor the four volunteers who were graduating. It was nice for me and wonderful for the volunteers.

The second came from trainings we gave to Head Start directors, staff, parents, and the public. These trainings had been requested by Head Start and organized by one of our earlier coordinators, Zarita Dotson. I'll never forget the comment of one of the mothers. She said, “If this had been available to me when I was little, I would have liked reading, been able to read better, and shared it with my children. It wasn’t, and I didn’t. My children were on their own once they could read just a little bit.”

What is the most important message you have for new volunteers?

Again, there are two. The first is to tell them they are dedicating their time to the children of Oakland, who deserve the very best. The second is that they are sufficient as they are. We provide a tool box; the volunteers can choose which tools they use.

Is there something you’d like to share that I haven’t asked? Gay Ducey with BWH bag

Yes. When our volunteers begin training, they are eager, well intentioned and nervous. The little secret we tell them on the first day is that they are going to be rock stars. They will find that this storyreading experience ranks very high on their list of fun things they have done in their lives. 

Thank you Gay. And thank you for your years of service to the children of Oakland, who deserve the very best.

***

Our fall training series is already underway, but if you might be interested in being a Books for Wider Horizons storyreader, please call (510) 238-7453 or e-mail Rochelle Venuto at rvenuto@oaklandlibrary.org for more information about our next series.  A 7-night training session (offered each fall) is required for this program. Upon completion of the training, each participant agrees to prepare and present a weekly storytime at a partnering preschool site for at least 6 months.

Oakland Reads 2020 - A New Chance for Oakland Youth

Did you know that only 42% of Oakland children read at a third grade level by third grade?  Did you know that only 33% of Oakland's socio-economically disadvantaged children read at grade level by the end of third grade? Did you know, further, that the ability to read at grade level by the end of third grade is a prime indicator of a child's likelihood of graduating from high school? 

Oakland Reads 2020 is an initiative of the Oakland Literacy Coalition, a group of service providers who believe that Oakland can double the number of third graders reading at grade level by 2020. 

There are four pillars that support this initiative:

  1. School Readiness - Children are set up for success when they enter school prepared to learn
  2. School Attendance - Good school attendance maximizes learning and helps students stay on track
  3. Summer Reading - Engaging educational opportunities over the break prevent summer slide
  4. Parent Engagement - Parents are their children's first teachers and most important advocates

Do you want to learn how you can get involved, or are you interested in donating to Oakland Reads 2020? Contact them.  

This initiative is a city-wide effort. The steering committee members are Brian Rogers (CEO, Rogers Family Foundation), Janis Burger (CEO, First 5 Alameda County), Gerry Garzón (Library Director, Oakland Public Library), Jen Rainin (President, Kenneth Rainin Foundation), Kathy Schulz (Dean and Professor of Education, Mills College of Education), Janet Y. Spears (COO, East Bay Community Foundation), Junious Williams (CEO, Urban Strategies Council), and Rich Winfield (Executive Director, Bananas).

 

 

 

People of Color Underrepresented in Children's Books

This post was originally going to be about "beauty" in children's books.  Inspired by Lupita Nyong'o's speech at the Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon, I wanted to talk about picture books that tell children they are beautiful in real ways, like My People, Me Frida, Flora and the Flamingo or Jingle Dancer

But then I was invited to appear, Monday morning, on KQED's Forum program for a panel discussion on why people of color are underpresented in children's books.    According to statistics collected by the Cooperative Children's Book Center at UW Madison, a disproportinately small number of children's books each year are by, or about, people of color.  Why is this the case? And why hasn't it changed?  I started my studies in this profession exactly 20 years ago, and we were having this exact same conversation....and it wasn't new then either.  

I invite you to listen to the podcast of the Forum program.  It felt like the conversation had just gotten started there.  We started asking  how can we leverage the market to create a demand--in dollars--that publishing houses and big box bookstores will respond to.  One of my colleagues alerted me to The Birthday Party Pledge:  committing to give multicultural books to the children in her life for one year.  She started recently, headed to a 4-year-old birthday party, and stopped at a local independent bookstore in Oakland to select a book.  She could not find one book in stock that was age appropriate and featured any children of color.  Not one.  She settled on Jerry Pinkney's The Lion and the Mouse; a beautiful book that highlights another symptom of the problem, as Pinkeny is only the second African-American ever to win a Caldecott Medal.  (Others have been awarded a Caldecott Honor, but still too few.  Listen to the Forum program for my thoughts on that.)

If we'd had a few more minutes on the program, I would have wanted to say: not every individual book has to do everything for everyone.  But the body of work that we create, produce, buy, and read for our children--the best of children's books--must be better at addressing all of its readership.  Kids read and respond to things they identify with, and things that are different, in books--helping them craft their identity by reflecting it, and expanding it.  Kids also start to build prejudices from what they see in the world, and in books, from a very early age. What kinds of experiences are we denying children of all kinds by not showing them experiences of all kinds in their literature?  

This is everyone's responsibility.  What can you do?  Think about it when you're choosing books for kids (your kids, your classroom, a present, donations to the Oakland Mayor's Toy Drive, whatever!) and ask for it.  That's a start. 

Which book do you want to share?

Books for Wider Horizons - Taking Storytimes to Young Children

BWH VolunteersEvery week about 60 dedicated volunteers read to children in 40 preschools in Oakland. They have been trained, tested, and sent forth to share their joy in language and literature with some of Oakland's youngest children.

These wonderful folks have committed themselves to a pretty rigorous schedule. They spend more than 20 hours over a period of two weeks in training. Then, once they are ready, we ask them to read 30 minutes a week at a Head Start or other preschool. That may not sound like a lot of time, however most volunteers spend hours choosing books, songs and fingerplays the children will enjoy. 

One of our volunteers has been with the program for almost twenty years, as long as Books for Wider Horizons has been in existence. Others take on multiple time slots, because they love it so much. Several manage to fit their storytime reading into their lunch break. Others are retired but have multiple volunteer positions. 

All are dedicated, love literature, and enjoy young children. What a fabulous group of people to work with! 

If you are interested in joining this committed and caring group of people, call us at (510) 238-7453. We conduct training sessions once a year, during the fall. If you can't wait to volunteer, there are other volunteer opportunities we can suggest.